If you're watching season 10 of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, you might notice a familiar face.
One of the contestants on the show, which is currently airing each Monday at 8:00pm EST, is East New York native Jennifer Carey, who has been baking pastries locally for more than 20 years.
Carey's infectious, distinctly Brooklyn spirit immediately made her a favorite among the judges.
“I was dubbed the Flavor Queen,” Carey said, laughing. “And because I was the Flavor Queen, I always brought the taste.”
Carey is no stranger to Food Network — she was also a contestant on Sweet Genius and was actually supposed to be featured on the spring's baking championship. However, she contracted COVID the day filming was supposed to begin. That’s what led to her being on the winter holiday-themed season.
“I think everything happens for a reason," Carey said. "The group that I ended up with in the holiday baking championship was the best that I could have ever expected. I mean, we built such a camaraderie and support of one another. It wasn't like a real competition where we were trying to beat each other. Everybody was supportive.”
Carey’s impetus for baking is different from most other bakers. She used to work a corporate job on the 47th floor of 7 World Trade. But the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, changed everything for her.
“Soon as the phones went dead, all of a sudden, there was this roar, this thunderous roar," she said, recalling the events of the day. "I just heard, ‘Everybody leave now before the building is next.”
She and her coworkers walked down the 47 flights of stairs, terrified.
“When we got down to the bottom, I just remember seeing a light, and there was all this smoke, and security was leading people that were coming from the stairs to get out. And when we came out, there was all this carnage."
Her cousin and brother also worked in the building at the time, and her cousin did not survive the attack. In the aftermath, Carey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and still struggles with survivor’s guilt.
“I never really got through it. It took years. And it seemed like my life just spiraled down as a result of that,” Carey said.
She decided she could not return to her former corporate job and went into business as a baker shortly after.
She told herself, “You know what? You have one life. It's very short. It can go any minute. You don't know how long you have. But while you're here, do what you want to do.”
And for Carey, that was baking.
“Baking is what I really loved because it had a discipline. And you could see disasters, you could see trauma. People look at pastry as just being sweet and that's it. And pastry is sweet, but before, the process is brutal. You are whipping and beating, and you're going through so much to get to that sweet part on the other side, that goodness. … I speak through food. And it helped me to say what I truly feel inside.”
These days, in addition to starring on Food Network, Carey caters for weddings and teaches several classes a week at Atelier Sucré in the East Village. She is one of the best wedding cake professionals, according to popular vote from brides on TheKnot.com.
She loves teaching and, in particular, loves answering questions that nobody is willing to ask for fear of looking stupid — like “Are these croissants going to get bigger?”
“Pastry, it's a discipline,” Carey said. “[Pastry chefs] really know how to work with dough because, in the end, they know the value of rising for every occasion. And no one looks at pastry unless it rises. That's how it's measured.
"And I said, ‘You can rise above this. You can rise to the occasion.’”